Immediately following the presidential debate last week, Mitt Romney saw for the first time since mid-September a lead in the presidential opinion polls. In an effort to keep momentum in his favor, he gave a speech Monday morning at the Virginia Military Institute in an attempt to differentiate his foreign policy and that of his rival, President Barack Obama.
He began as usual by critiquing Obama's failed foreign policy. Indeed, he disparaged Obama's efforts abroad for so long, I wondered if he would ever clarify how he would change said policy. Citing recent violent protests against America in the Middle East, Romney astutely observed that the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, was not an isolated incident, and specified that those who killed Stevens were of the same breed as those who carried out the 9/11 attacks (currently most indicators place culpability on Ansar al-Sharia, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).
Romney also criticized Obama for weak leadership that lead to an increase in violence in the Islamic World. Like in many of his previous foreign policy speeches, Romney's ultimate accusation was that Obama has been leading from behind for the past four years.
Apparently Romney suffers from mild amnesia.
Obama, since coming into office, has done nothing but increase his predecessor's efforts to impose America's will on the region. He has massively expanded sanctions on Iran that mostly target (and therefore antagonize) its citizens, approved hundreds of drone strikes on countries with which we are not at war with, and has continued our expedient alliance with tyranny in the Middle East while offering inconsistent support for the few peaceful democratic movements.
Romney, on the other hand, said he would tighten sanctions on Iran even further ... because this has worked so well in the past. And while calling for stronger American leadership in the Middle East, he also said there would be no light between our policy and Israeli policy in the region. Interestingly, this is both no different from Obama (the only "light" was limited to meager rhetoric in 2009 and 2010 that quickly ceased) and a way to effectively outsource our foreign policy decisions to another country. How will we lead if we are merely following the footsteps of Israel?
Much the same as Obama, Romney barely mentions the myriad peaceful democratic movements in the Middle East, such as in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria (at the beginning), Egypt, and Tunisia. Instead, he merely calls for strengthening our ties with the Gulf, which means the despotic tyrants who violently put down peaceful protests. And, rather than align ourselves with the alienated peaceful movements in Syria, he would like to identify the "members of the [Syrian] opposition who share our values" and arm them to defeat Assad and the Iranian influence in the Levant. Incidentally, this is basically the same thing we did in Afghanistan in the 70s against Russia, and in Libya against Gaddafi. Romney has forgotten that every time America attempts to help a violent conflict, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Arming the Syrian opposition at this point means allying ourselves with radical Islamic, Saudi-Wahhabi supported militants who will likely turn on us once our usefulness has expired.
Romney is correct in observing that since Obama has come into office, America's standing in the world, specifically the Islamic World, has suffered. However, he is sorely mistaken to believe that this is because of American inaction. Like every president before him, if elected Romney will forget to read the history books.